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The Problem With Positive Thinking

Mindset Made Simple Tip #86 - Watch or listen HERE.

As I mentioned in my video last week, our joke at practice when the kids would ask what we were doing that day (as if they didn’t get a practice plan) was to say, “we’re going to talk about our feelings.”

Sounded better than hard physical work, I suppose!

I’ve never been one to talk about my feelings much, but last week we talked about the benefits of acknowledging our feelings and allowing ourselves to dispute them or keep them in check. The key is understanding they are not facts.

I also mentioned the inability to be POSITIVE in all situations, admitting that positive thinking alone isn’t the answer to improving our performance.

To take this thought one step further, there is evidence that simply dreaming about our goals and feeling as if they are certain to come true may make it less likely we will ever achieve them.

How can this be? We know that positive emotion is one of the biggest predictors of peak performance.

I agree!

However, we also know that just thinking something is going to happen and having a positive mindset doesn’t make it happen. (On the other hand, negative thinking and thinking we can’t do something almost ALWAYS works!)

There is no doubt that telling ourselves what we want as opposed to telling ourselves what we are trying to avoid is beneficial to our performance.

We should say (and see) what we want. Remember, we never go into a restaurant and tell the waiter all the menu items we don’t want and expect to get a meal we like!

BUT…only looking at what we want and acting as if it has happened or is sure to happen can keep us from doing what we need to get there.

“The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking. Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.” Says Dr. Gabriele Oettingen

Dreaming about what we want but acknowledging that the road to the top isn’t always easy, can help move us toward our desired outcome.

If our goal is to be a starter, but that doesn’t happen when the first lineup is written, we may not have the motivation to keep working with intensity toward what we want.

Why? Because we didn’t think about an adjustment or plan for what we would do if such an obstacle presented itself.

Dr. Oettingen and other researchers contend that mental contrasting, meaning looking at our goals and dreams with a positive mindset while adding in the real obstacles that could trip us up, will prepare us to get what we want.

Those things we think will keep us from reaching our goals can lead us to fulfill our dreams.

How can thinking of obstacles help us?

By brainstorming the bumps in the road, we can make plans for what we will do when the obstacles arise.

“If I am not in the starting lineup, then I will….”

Taking the time to think through these obstacles is sort of like “pre-deciding”. When they happen, we won’t have to waste time making decisions and can quickly execute our plan.

Here is the method from start to finish. It sounds a bit goofy, but the acronym Dr. Oetingen uses is WOOP.

W = What do I want to happen? What is my WISH?

O = Here is where some of our metal tools come in. What will the OUTCOME of our wish feel like? We now visualize it just like we would visualize any other situation using all our senses and feeling as if it is happening now. What will I be doing? How will others react? How will I look, act, feel? We are there before we are there.

O = Now we make a list of all the OBSTACLES that could stand between us and our desired outcome. Be sure to include the internal obstacles (doubts, fears, etc.) as well as external obstacles. Start with the internal obstacles first.

This may be the hardest part of the exercise because we often think it is others or other situations that keep us from moving forward. The truth is most distractions and obstacles exist within us. Acknowledging them takes an honest evaluation and puts the responsibility on US! This will help us first think about what is in our control and then move on to figure out how to deal with the things out of our control. Can we influence them or do we create a plan to keep our focus on what we can control?

P = It’s time to make that PLAN to circumvent our obstacles. What can we do to overcome them? What is one action I can take or thought I can change to help reach my wish? If this happens, then I will…

If you think about it, this method can work for anything we want to accomplish.

Positive thinking is important, but being realistic about the things within us or around us that can hold us back prepares us to get where we are going with more motivation and less frustration.

We are still thinking positively about the future. But now we are thinking about it realistically.

Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled starts like this. "Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.”

Life is hard. Sports are hard. Handling pressure is hard.

Obstacles will present themselves. But being equipped to handle them with a plan can keep us moving forward. It’s like having a plan to get back on the horse if we fall off…or if the horse goes off the trail.

Discussing team goals? Do a little WOOP.

Setting individual goals? As your athletes to use THIS WOOP KIT to help them think through what reaching their goals will require.

To perform at our best, we must be willing to endure the pain that comes along with pushing beyond our comfort zone. It isn’t all butterflies and rainbows.

It may be that this practice will help our athletes realize that they aren’t yet willing to do what it takes to reach the goal they think they want.

How would we ever know how committed we need to be if we never acknowledge the hard road ahead?

Positive thinking is vital to peak performance. But keeping it real sets us up for success.

What do you want? How awesome will that be? What can stand in your way? And finally, what is your plan to keep moving forward no matter what happens?

The acronym may be goofy (WOOP), but the plan is pretty solid!

WOOP it up!


P.S. I would love to share other tools to help your team’s mental game. Call today and let’s set a plan that fits your team. Don’t have the budget for a full program right now? Schedule a team session today or check out my online courses at

Julie Jones

Certified Mental Performance & Mindset Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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